Scandal rocks the Bolshoi

IT was once a byword for the finest in Russian culture. But the Bolshoi theatre, which gave the world Vaslav Nijinsky, Ekaterina Maximova and Mikhail Baryshnikov, is in danger of gaining a reputation for something altogether different. It is accused of falling victim to modern Russia�s ills � greed, vulgarity and corruption.

The surprise departure last week of Gennady Yanin, deputy director of the Bolshoi ballet company, is the latest scandal to rock the institution. Yanin was forced out last week when graphic images of him in bed with other men were posted online. He has declined to comment on the row, saying only that he decided to leave his position because he was tired.

Yanin�s departure has opened the floodgates of Bolshoi gossip. With more than 200 dancers, it is by far the world�s biggest ballet company, home to endless intrigue. Yet former dancers and critics say the nature of the scandals goes well beyond the diva antics typical of any major dance company.

Anastasia Volochkova, the former Bolshoi prima ballerina who was fired in 2003 over her weight, describes a theatre transformed into a quasi-escort agency for wealthy donors. Several other sources backed up her claims.

�Parties are organised for oligarchs, for sponsors. And they invite ballerinas from the Bolshoi,� Volochkova said. �These girls aren�t invited privately, but through the theatre�s administration. �The girls are told: if you go to the party, you will have a future. If not, you won�t go on the next tour.�

But Bolshoi spokeswoman Katerina Novikova denied the suggestions of impropriety.

The latest scandal has exploded at an inopportune time. In October, the theatre is due to reopen its doors for a grand gala after closing for renovation in 2005. In 2009, prosecutors opened an investigation into the lead contractor, alleging it had been paid three times for the same work in a �10m corruption case.

According to Volochkova and Rinat Arifulin, a former lead dancer at the Bolshoi, the corruption does not end there. The two dancers allege tenders for everything from costumes to props are consistently inflated.

The Bolshoi ballet troupe completed a successful run in London last summer. Yet at home, where ballet is treated with almost religious respect, it has long failed to win the critical acclaim that it once drew. �There�s a certain aura around the Bolshoi and things aren�t looked at as critically as they ought to be when they are abroad,� said Raymond Stults, who has written on ballet for the Moscow Times for 17 years.

The Bolshoi has lost some of its best talent as the situation has worsened.

�For the last couple of years, there�s a feeling that there is no serious mind behind what they�re doing,� said Stults.

Credit : The Guardian, London
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